Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Outsider

     This post is the 105th weekly installment on this blog, thereby making it the de facto Second Anniversary Issue. I enjoy and appreciate the opportunity to communicate ideas with others like you. May you derive some benefit from it. Be happy.

     In retrospect, I suppose it would have been more appropriate to have named this blog "The Bahiya Blog." I named it Nippapañca because it's my favorite synonym for Nirvana, and because my website and email address were already called that. But nippapañca means something like "non-differentiation," and what can one write about that? The more one writes, the more differentiated everything gets. Writing about non-differentiation can get rather complicated actually.  
     But bāhiya means "outsider"; and that description seems to fit the contents and the author of this blog much better. Even though I was born and raised in America, I'm certainly an outsider to the modern American way of life, even to the modern American Buddhist way of life. But I don't think like a native-born Asian either, and probably wouldn't even if I could, so I'm an outsider in the East as well as in the West. I'm pretty much of an outsider in the Sangha also, and pretty much always have been. But being an outsider definitely has its advantages, and so I'm not complaining. For one thing, an outsider to any system can see it from unusual and interesting angles; and I especially like unusual and interesting angles with regard to Dharma.
     Also, as it turns out, one of my favorite discourses in the Pali Canon is the Bāhiya Sutta, a strange sutta about a non-Buddhist philosopher (hence the name "Outsider") who was so eager to learn, so sincere, and so in tune with what the Buddha told him that he became enlightened almost immediately, despite the fact that he wasn't ordained into the Buddha's dispensation. Anyway, here is a translation of the text. I'll follow up with some unofficial commentary afterwards. 
~   ~   ~

The Bāhiya Discourse (Udāna 1:10)

     Thus have I heard: One time the Blessed One was residing at Savatthi, in Jetavana, in Anathapindika's park. At that same time, Bahiya the tree-bark wearer was staying at Supparaka, near the seashore, being honored, respected, venerated, adored, and worshipped, receiving the requisites of robes, alms food, lodging places, and medicines for the sick. Then to Bahiya the tree-bark wearer, having gone off alone, while in seclusion, the thought arose to his mind: "Whoever there are in this world who are Worthy Ones (arahanto), or who have attained the path to the state of being Worthy Ones, I am one of them."
     Then a deity who had formerly been a close relative of Bahiya the tree-bark wearer, compassionate and desiring Bahiya the tree-bark wearer's welfare, having understood in his mind the thought which arose to the mind of Bahiya the tree-bark wearer, approached him. Having approached Bahiya the tree-bark wearer, he said: "Bahiya, you are neither a Worthy One nor one who has attained the path to the state of being a Worthy One. That way is not yours, by which you might become a Worthy One or someone attained to the path to the state of being a Worthy One."
     "Then who in the world with its deities is a Worthy One, or one attained to the path of being a Worthy One?" 
     "Bahiya, in the northern districts there is a city called Savatthi. Now the Blessed One resides there, a Worthy One, a truly, fully Awakened One. That Blessed One it is, Bahiya, who is Worthy, and who teaches the Way to the state of being a Worthy One."
     Then Bahiya the tree-bark wearer, being stirred in spirit by that deity, immediately left Supparaka, sleeping only one night at every stopping place till he arrived at Savatthi, Jetavana, Anathapindika's park. At that time there were several monks doing walking meditation in the open air, so Bahiya the tree-bark wearer approached those monks. Approaching those monks, he said, "Venerable Sirs, where is the Blessed One who resides here now, the Worthy One, truly, fully Awakened? I want to see that Blessed One, that Worthy One, that truly, fully Awakened One." 
     "Bahiya, the Blessed One has entered among the houses for alms."
     So then Bahiya the tree-bark wearer, in a great hurry, left Jetavana, and, having entered Savatthi, he saw the Blessed One walking for alms in Savatthi: serene, inspiring serenity, with peaceful faculties, with peaceful mind, having attained the ultimate restraint and tranquillity, a Great One (nāga) restrained, watchful, and with secured faculties. Having seen the Blessed One he approached him, and having approached him he bowed his head to the Blessed One's feet, and said this to the Blessed One: "Venerable Sir, Blessed One, teach me the Way. Let the Fortunate One teach the Way which will be for my benefit and happiness for a long time." 
     This being said, the Blessed One said to Bahiya the tree-bark wearer, "This is not a good time, Bahiya. I am entered among the houses for alms."
     A second time Bahiya the tree-bark wearer said to the Blessed One, "It is difficult to know, Venerable Sir, when the life of the Blessed One will come to an end, or when my own life will come to an end. Venerable Sir, let the Blessed One teach me the Way. Let the Fortunate One teach the Way which will be for my benefit and happiness for a long time."
     And a second time the Blessed One said to Bahiya the tree-bark wearer, "This is not a good time, Bahiya. I am entered among the houses for alms."
     But a third time Bahiya the tree-bark wearer said to the Blessed One, "It is difficult to know, Venerable Sir, when the life of the Blessed One will come to an end, or when my own life will come to an end. Venerable Sir, let the Blessed One teach me the Way. Let the Fortunate One teach the Way which will be for my benefit and happiness for a long time."
     "Well then, Bahiya, thus should you train yourself—In the seen there will be only the seen, in the heard there will be only the heard, in the felt there will be only the felt, in the mentally sensed there will be only the mentally sensed. Just so, Bahiya, should you train yourself. And since, Bahiya, in the seen there will be only the seen, in the heard there will be only the heard, in the felt there will be only the felt, and in the mentally sensed there will be only the mentally sensed, from that you, Bahiya, are not thereby. And since, Bahiya, you are not thereby, you, Bahiya, are not therein. And since, Bahiya, you are not therein, you, Bahiya, have no here, no hereafter, no between the two. Just this is the end of unease."
     Then, when Bahiya the tree-bark wearer had heard from the Blessed One this concentrated teaching of the Way, right then and there his mind was liberated from the encumbering influences, without uptake.
     Then the Blessed One, having exhorted Bahiya the tree-bark wearer with this concentrated exhortation, departed. And then, shortly after the Blessed One's departure, a cow, a yearling heifer, charged Bahiya the tree-bark wearer and deprived him of life.
     Then the Blessed One, having walked for alms in Savatthi, after his meal and returning from alms round with many monks, upon leaving the town saw that Bahiya the tree-bark wearer was dead. And having seen, he said to the monks, "Take up the body of Bahiya the tree-bark wearer. Put him on a cot, carry him away, and cremate him. Monks, it is a fellow liver of the Holy Life who has died."
     "Even so, venerable sir," those monks replied to the Blessed One; so having taken up the body of Bahiya the tree-bark wearer on a cot, having taken it away and cremating it, and also having erected a burial mound over it, they approached the Blessed One. Having approached the Blessed One, and having paid their respects, they sat down to one side. And sitting at one side, those monks said this to the Blessed One: "Venerable sir, the body of Bahiya the tree-bark wearer has been burned, and a burial mound has been erected. What is his fate? What has become of him after death?"
     "A wise man, monks, was Bahiya the tree-bark wearer. He entered upon the Way in accordance with the Way, and he did no violence to my dispensation of the Way. Completely blown out, monks, is Bahiya the tree-bark wearer." 
     Then the Blessed One, having understood this matter deeply, on this occasion he uttered this inspired utterance: 

     Where water and earth, fire and wind gain no foothold,
     There the stars do not shine, the sun does not blaze,
     And there the moon does not glow; yet darkness there is not to be found.

     And when a sage, through sagacity, a Holy Man, has known this for himself,
     Then from form and formlessness, from ease and unease, he is freed. 

     And this inspired utterance was spoken by the Blessed One; and thus have I heard it.
     ~   ~   ~

     Thus the discourse. The Udāna Pali, of which this sutta is a part, is considered by Western experts on such matters to be a relatively very ancient text, common to many ancient schools of Buddhism; although the prose and verse parts are not considered to be necessarily contemporaneous in origin. It appears that if a sutta contains both verse and prose, the verse is typically older, with the prose material being a sort of commentary which was later incorporated into it. But with the Udāna, some of the prose appears to be very old; and the narrative of the Bāhiya Sutta appears, if only because of the unusualness and freshness of the subject matter, to be possibly even older than the inspired utterance itself. At any rate some of it is arguably at least as profound as the inspired utterance. But enough of theorizing about how ancient things are.
     I've read some comments by a person named Leigh Brasington saying that Bahiya (I leave out the macron over the first "a" for convenience's sake) was probably a Brahmin ascetic who followed the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. Brasington's reasons for coming to this conclusion were that a garment made of tree bark was common to these Brahmins, and that the Buddha's statements were reminiscent of teachings of the Brihadaranyaka itself, for example:
"The unseen seer, the unheard hearer, the unthought thinker, the uncognized cognizer….There is no other seer but he, no other hearer, no other thinker, no other cognizer. This is thy self, the inner controller, the immortal...." (—Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 3.7.23), 
"...that imperishable is the unseen seer, the unheard hearer, the unthought thinker, the ununderstood understander. Other than it there is naught that sees. Other than it there is naught that hears. Other than it there is naught that thinks. Other than it there is naught that understands...." (—ibid. 3.8.11).
So the Buddha apparently modified the message of the Upanishad to emphasize anattā, No Self, presumably because Bahiya's interpretation of the upanishadic view of Self was interfering with his spiritual development. Thus this discourse may present some of the strongest evidence in the Pali texts that the Buddha was familiar with Upanishadic literature. No evidence is conclusive though.
      The garment of bark probably consisted of fibrous inner bark material woven into a rough fabric, like burlap.
     Supparaka was a seaport very near to what is now Mumbai (Bombay); so it would have been roughly a thousand miles away from where the Buddha was residing. So Bahiya's march was a very long one.
     I used "Worthy One" as a rendering of arahant because that is literally what the word means. Apparently it was used for dignitaries in general in ancient India, and was adopted by the Buddhists and turned into a technical term meaning "enlightened being." The ancient Buddhists did a lot of that kind of adopting and adjusting of terms. But araha meaning "worthy" was not even necessarily a positive word in ancient times. For instance, in the Pali texts someone worthy of punishment can be called araha, worthy, of that punishment.
     Most of the story is self-explanatory, so I won't insult your intelligence by explaining it. The Buddha's cryptic, Zen-like admonishment to Bahiya at the climax of the tale, however, is unusually deep for a Pali text. It's not just hard to understand, it's downright mysterious. But the profundity of the statement lies in its utter simplicity. The meaning seems to be something like this: If we experience mindfulness in such a way that we are totally in the present moment, not relying upon memory and associations at all to interpret what we are experiencing (unless of course it happens spontaneously, in which case we don't elaborate on this natural process but leave it exactly as it is), then the relations which entangle us in this world (thereby) fall away, causing "us" (therein), without support, also to fall away. Nothing can exist without relations. And this dissolution of an illusory self through being wide awake in the present moment, not clinging to an autobiography and a metaphysical interpretation to hold our psychological world together, is enlightenment. 
     Interestingly, it seems like most meditation teachers, at least in Burma, use the Buddha's instruction to Bahiya as support for their own method…and in my opinion every one of them uses it incorrectly. For example, teachers of the Mahasi method cite "in the seen there will be only the seen…" in support of the Mahasi method, despite the plain fact that the Mahasi method certainly does not teach only the seen. The Mahasi method and every other such method I've come across teaches noting or some other mental action or reaction in addition to the seen, the heard, etc. And if you are noting the seen, then you no longer have only the seen, do you. You have the seen AND the noting of the seen. With the Buddha's instruction in this text, the mind is essentially in a state the Christian mystics would call high contemplation, and the mind would be like a mirror, clearly reflecting whatever is set before it, but not reacting at all, not even focusing on this instead of that. The mirror clearly reflects, but does absolutely nothing, effortlessly. (Since writing this a monk ordained into the Mahasi tradition has informed me that the late venerable Mahasi Sayadaw himself did in fact teach such "panoramic mindfulness" to his very advanced disciples, although some teachers of the Mahasi method assert that one never stops noting in the practice.)
     At the part where Bahiya becomes enlightened, I rendered the word āsava, usually rendered as "taint" or "canker" or some such, as "encumbering influence." This is because the Pali word literally means something that flows inward, towards the subject, which is what influence literally means also. I have read that the early Buddhists borrowed this term from the Jains, who considered karma to be a kind of sticky substance that flows into or onto our soul (jīva) and weighs it down, keeping it in this world. Thus an āsava is an influence that holds us down, so to speak. It keeps us from being free.
     Also, I rendered the term upādāna, which is usually translated as "clinging," quite literally as "uptake," since that's what it actually says, and because it seems to me slightly more descriptive of what really happens. We take something up, even if only in our desires, and make it "ours," which of course messes life all up. According to the classic formula, craving leads to uptake, and uptake leads to the motive force of existence (bhava). I have read that in ancient India upādāna could also mean fuel, firewood; and of course it is the blowing out of the fire which is nibbāna, Nirvana.
     It may seem strange that almost immediately after Waking Up, Bahiya is killed by a cow. Not even by a bull, or even a big cow, but by a little, female cow. There are two themes involved in this. First there is the idea, found in the commentaries and ignored by most Western laypeople, that although it is possible for someone not ordained in the Sangha to become enlightened, they'd better find a bowl, robes, and an ordination hall immediately, because no enlightened being who isn't an officially ordained Buddhist monk or nun will survive for more than one day. It may be, though, that this rather strange notion arose after stories like the one about Bahiya. Bahiya may have helped to set the precedent, and to give birth to the idea.
     Again according to the commentarial tradition, there is another reason why Bahiya was killed by a (female) cow. In a previous life Bahiya was one of a group of four friends. One day, in a fit of criminal rascality, these four friends hired a prostitute to accompany them to a pleasure garden. They gang-raped her there, or committed some similar atrocity anyhow, which resulted in the girl's death. Her spirit longed for vengeance as a result of this, causing her to be reborn in demonic forms which sought revenge on her erstwhile murderers. In the case of this sutta she had assumed the form of a cow to wreak her revenge on the man who was now Bahiya. All four of the former friends eventually were killed by the being who had formerly been the prostitute. 
     When the Buddha says that Bahiya is "completely blown out" (parinibbuto) he asserts that Bahiya died in an enlightened state; and the final verses are also a "description" of that which cannot be described, i.e., Nirvana. No elements there. No light, and no darkness. No form, no formlessness. No ease, no unease. In short, Nirvana is beyond duality, and also beyond differentiation. Which brings us back to nippapañca, and the impossibility of really describing it, so I'll stop here.


  1. Leigh Brasington's notes are interesting, but I fear they may be a bit misleading.

    "The bark cloth clothing would most likely mean that Bahiya was a follower of the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad."

    I don't think so. Bark cloth - more like jute in fact - was a widespread form of garment. From my blog "MA informs us that bowstrings were made from the bark (vāka) of the akka [plant] – though as a flowering shrub it doesn’t have bark per se, so here it must mean the outer layers of the stems. Compare the notion of ascetics wearing the vākacīra or ‘bark garment’, which presumably is from cloth woven of rough fibre produced from this or a similar source. According to the Udāna-Aṭṭakathā, Bāhiya used akka stalks (akkanāḷāni) to make a robe and shawl (nivāsana-pāvuraṇāni) to clothe himself. akkanāḷāni chinditvā vākehi paliveṭhetvā nivāsanapāvuraṇāni katvā acchādesi (UdA 77)." Essay entitled Irrelevant Details Thus Bāhiya like other paribajjakas probably wore jute. And they probably did so in imitation of Munda speaking tribal people (who still use such cloth).

    "The Brhadaranyaka Upanishad makes a big deal about trees".

    Not really. And the akka is not a tree anyway, but a shrub.

    However the suggested parallels with Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣa 3.7.23 and 3.8.11 are a bit more interest. Richard Gombrich commented on this set of seeing, hearing, thinking - in his 1990 article on the Alagaddupama Sutta. Gombrich points to BU 4.5.6: “For when one has seen (dṛṣṭe) and heard (śrute) one’s self, when one has reflected (mate), and concentrated (vijñāta) on one’s self, one knows this whole world (idaṃ sarvaṃ).”

    The equivalent Pāli words are diṭṭhaṃ sutaṃ mutaṃ and viññātaṃ. But these occur in many places that contain no hint of awareness of BU, e.g. D iii.135, M i.135, and a part of a longer list at M 1.4ff.

    I think this is not a specific reference, but a case of a widely used figure of speech.

  2. Well sir, you may very well be right. On the other hand, the commentarial tradition is not all that reliable, and the Vinaya itself mentions such strange ascetic garb as owl wings, so it's impossible to say with certainty what some ascetics in north India, or in Bahiya's case west India, actually wore. Coincidentally, I have a post coming up which discusses this very topic of commentarial ignorance of the types of rough fibers made into ascetic clothing in ancient north India. It will be posted in a few weeks.

    It would be interesting if the Bahiya Sutta really does allude to an Upanishad. I can't insist on it though. Be well and peaceful.

  3. Congratulations on your two year anniversary. I have been following your blog for most of that time and I am learning about Buddhism and your trials and tribulations and feel I am along for the ride if for nothing else just to learn what is next. But I also learn some intriguing stuff too, however, this weeks dispensation on whether he wore bark cloth or jute, whether in fact it is a tree or a shrub, is a bit too esoteric, a bit too much insider baseball for my non-buddhist mind. It makes me think of the loan Does one hand fapping make a sound?


  4. You borrowed a koan? I don't consider it to be a very good one though, since I'm pretty sure that "fap" is an onomatopoeia. Thus not particularly conducive to the attainment of kensho.

  5. Retrying just to be sure: Please delete in case of repitition

    I hope you pick up this comment.

    My question was regarding closed-eyes meditation. Why is it critical that one has to practice closed eyes meditation in order to go into Jhanas, Samadhis, other realms/Universes or understand the Nature of Reality.

    Isn't there a "subtle implication" that when you do closed eyes meditation, you are accepting to be influenced by "delusions"?

    If other worlds/realms, higher formless Jhanas, Samadhis,Higher forms of Knowledge do exist, why cannot they break into this world while one is practicing a sort of open-eyed panoramic mindfulness or observing open-eyed ND Awareness (as taught by you in ND 101)

    Can closed eyes. seated meditation be replaced by a sort of constant , panoramic mindfulness cum Non-dual awareness?

    1. I am not sure why you consider it critical to have one's eyes closed in order to have deep samadhi. It's apparently not critical for the attainment of enlightenment according to the texts, since Bahiya standing in the street probably had his eyes open. Mainly it just reduces the potential of distraction.